A Concise History of the Steam-Powered
World Land Speed Record
In 1906, Fred Marriott drove a steam powered vehicle built by the Stanley Brothers to an amazing speed of 127.659 MPH. The sanctioning body for international land speed records at the time was the FIA. Land speed records were measured across a marked mile in a single direction and a single pass. The time was recorded and the record determination was made from the calculations of that time.
Today the FIA is still the sanctioning body and recognizes a land speed record as the average speed of two passes made across a measured distance in opposing directions within 60 minutes of each other. The time of the two runs is then averaged to obtain the official recorded speed. However, this requirement was instituted in 1910 after the record was established and therefore is still recognized as the official land speed record and remained untouched until the late entrepreneur William Lear ventured into the arena of steam powered vehicles during a 1969 program. The program was sponsored by the state of California and intended to bring about ecologically friendly steam powered city busses. Lear turned to Barber-Nichols Engineering to design a steam turbine and although the city bus program ultimately failed, several turbines were built in support of the program.
In 1985 one of the Lear turbines found its way into a car which had been brought to the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, USA for an attempt at the steam powered Land Speed record. Over the course of several years the car progressed from 110 MPH to a measured speed of 145.607 MPH. This was the official speed set by Bob Barber but was not recognized by the FIA. The British Steam Car team always recognized this speed as the record to emulate.
In August 2009 (over 100 years later) the British Steam Car Team smashed the official FIA Fred Marriott land speed record, and Bob Barbers. Principle driver Charles Burnett III broke the record with an average speed of 139.8mph on two runs over a measured mile at Edwards Air Force Base California. In addition, test Driver Don Wales established a new record for a measured mile - achieving an average speed of 148.166mph on two runs securing their places in the record books.
The British Steam Car Team achieved five new speed records:
- The International Record for an average measured mile at 139.843mph;
- The International Record for an average measured kilometre at 148.308mph;
- An American National Record for an average measured mile at 148.166mph;
- An American National Record for an average measured kilometre at 148.308mph (Category A, Group X, Class 3);
- A Guinness World Record for a measured mile at 139.843mph.